Let’s face it: January 1 — the dead of winter — is probably the worst time of the year to turn over a new leaf. Everyone’s exhausted from the holidays, weather’s usually terrible, and the big seasonal foods are hardy greens and root vegetables (which might be exactly nobody’s favorite treats). It’s no wonder that 46% of people who make a new year’s resolution have abandoned it by the time February rolls around.
So this year, why not make a spring resolution. The timing couldn’t be better: A whole slew of great fruits and vegetables — strawberries! asparagus! sugar-snap peas! —make their appearance at the farmers market, and more hours of daylight seem to help us get out of work in time to cook a nice meal at home.
Here are few tips for reaching your spring goals around Food and Cooking:
1) I want to eat healthier meals
It’s almost impossible to get through the winter without indulging a little more than you’d planned to, or even a little more than you’d care to admit! Luckily, the seasons are in your favor when spring rolls around.
Take a peek at your local farmers market’s website or Facebook page, and you’re sure to find some amazing spring crops making their way from the field to your family table. Berries start pushing aside cold-storage apples, asparagus and sugar-snap peas crowd out the turnips and rutabagas, and beautiful artichokes and tender lettuces take the place of chard and hardy squash. When food looks and tastes this fabulous, it gets easier to eat a little lighter and indulge in fresh flavors rather than calorie-dense comforts.
2) I want to try new recipes
Tired of the same old meals you’ve been making since… so long you don’t even remember when? (Yeah, us too.) Here’s a tip that makes it easy to branch out: Try adding one new food, one new recipe, or one new technique to your repertoire each week. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and over-reach by trying too many things at once. Not only can you end up frustrated at all the extra effort that goes into cooking something new, but you’ll surely miss the comfort of a few old standby flavors.
One of our favorite sources of inspiration is Pinterest, where you’ll discover a recipe for every type of food you might want to try (and possibly a few better left unexplored!). You’ll find Pinterest boards devoted to vegetarians and carnivores, kid-friendly snacks and grown-up cocktails, super-healthy meals to indulgent comfort food, simple weeknight suppers to elegant entertaining ideas. The choices are practically endless!
3) I want to cook at home more often
Eating dinner at home is like a secret shortcut to happiness for so many other parts of your life. It’s the key to saving money, staying healthy, and spending more quality time with your family. But we get it: Cooking can be a lot of effort… especially after a full day of work and chores and driving all over town. Even the most devoted home cooks can hit a slump where time in the kitchen feels like punishment. We’re here to help!
First, don’t be so hard on yourself. You don’t have to make every last item from scratch; nobody’s keeping score. Aim small at first: For a pasta feast, fall back on premade salad and bottled dressing, and let everyone choose their favorite fruit for dessert. For taco night, splurge on shredded cheese and bagged lettuce to make prep quicker.
Even if you’re simply buying a rotisserie chicken and dressing it up with a few well-chosen sides from the grocery-store salad bar, you’re miles ahead — in both nutrition and budget — than heading to the local drive-thru or chain restaurant. There’s always room to get a little more advanced next week.
4) I want to throw great dinner parties
There’s something amazing that happens when you bring good friends and good food together in a beautiful space. The meal tastes better, the conversation sparkles brighter. At the end of the night, guests head home with a full heart to match their contented bellies. And everyone says “That was so much fun! Let’s do it again soon!”
So why don’t we do it again soon? Here’s a hunch: We’re busy. We’re on a budget. And we want to impress our friends with a perfect night out, but aren’t really sure we’re up for all that effort. But don’t let perfectionism be the enemy! It’s doesn’t take weeks of planning and days of cooking to make a party memorable. Your friends will remember the happy glow of the table and the fun conversations, not whether or not your napkins match your plates or you served red wine in a white wine glass (or a paper cup, for that matter).
So make it casual: Whip up a double batch of your favorite casserole and a big green salad, with some store-bought ice cream for dessert. Or set up a buffet with tons of toppings and let everyone build their own burger or taco plate. Then turn the iPod on shuffle, put a couple of six-packs in the fridge, and you’re on your way to a party that will leave your friends marveling at your brilliant hosting skills.
5) I want to create a weekly meal plan
Meal planning can be a godsend for time-strapped families. With a little up-front planning, you can plot an entire week’s worth of dinners in an evening, shop for groceries the next morning, and tackle some simple prep in the afternoon. Within a few hours, you’ll set yourself up for a week of easy meals.
One tip we love: Pick a couple of soups or stews to make in double batches over the weekend. Refrigerate half the recipe to eat later the same week, and freeze the rest for some time down the road. If you do this every week, eventually you’ll have a “library” of ready-to-thaw suppers on hand. Add a simple salad and some crusty bread and you’re good to go.
And remember, you don’t have to start from scratch every week. If you want to have mac-and-cheese with green beans every Monday, we’re not going to tell you not to! So pick a few favorite meals that everyone in the family loves, then slot those into your schedule every week. Once these standbys are in place, it’ll seem less daunting to fill in the rest of the week with seasonal recipes, new ideas, and variations on a few other favorites. Best of all, you’ll always know the answer to “What’s for dinner tonight?”
6) I want to stop eating junk food
Fast food, salty snacks, candy bars, and sugary soda: They’re the culprits in so many of our health issues… and they’re almost impossible to ignore. But with a little willpower and some clever strategies, you’ll be able to kick the junk food habit and return these treats back to special-occasion status where they belong.
First, recognize that these foods are engineered to appeal to some very powerful parts of our brains. You’re not weak for craving them! Junk-food manufacturers spend millions of dollars designing crave-worthy snacks that, in many cases, tap directly into our most primal senses and emotions.
Next, practice a few simple rules. If a product has more than 5 ingredients, avoid it: It’s likely to be an unhealthy choice. Keep healthy foods on hand to make it easier to choose something nutritious rather than a junk-food fix. And don’t forget the power of repetition to help break a habit: If you’re used to having a bag of chips two hours after lunch, distract yourself with a healthier crunchy treat like apple slices slathered with almond butter.
But most important, don’t forget why you made your no-junk-food pledge. Whether you’re trying lose weight, eat healthier, or just ditch a lazy habit, you deserve the satisfaction of keeping the promise you made to yourself.